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Christchurch roading contractor Trevor Bond went to Wellington to work on a telephone exchange as a teenager but soon found himself driving Rob Muldoon, judges, visiting royalty and Hollywood pin-ups around the capital. Chris Barclay delves into the 71-year-old Halswell roading contractor’s fork in the road career-wise.
My father and brother were contractors with machinery for roading and dams in Temuka and Ashburton. When I grew up mum said: “You’re not going into the contracting business, you’re going to go into the Post Office”. In those days you left school at 15. I transferred to the telephone exchange in Timaru as a switchboard operator but the big money was in Wellington. They were screaming out for people to go there. I got a bit sick of it after a year but my manager said, “No Trevor, you’ve got too much seniority, I don’t want you to throw that away. I’ll put you down in the public service garage, an area you’ll like”.
I was on the Post Office trucks, the old mail trucks and then I was made head chauffeur [in 1970] when I was 20. I was one of the youngest in New Zealand. We used to have a pool of cars. There were 25 limousines. You’d carry anyone from Post Office people to judges, heads of government departments. It was busy all the time, the place never closed.
You’d have made some newsworthy observations after midnight then.
You met a lot of interesting people but you had to be very discreet. You had to watch who you spoke to, you got used to holding everything to yourself, especially when you went to the pub of a night.
And decades later, unfortunately for us, you still pump the brakes on gossiping, don’t you?
I always had a laugh to myself about a few things, I can’t think of any bloody thing.
Let’s get rolling with the cars then. What models did you get to gas up?
When I started they were Chevrolet Impalas, then they went to the [Canadian] Ford Galaxie and from there the Ford LTDs. They were maroon. All the others were black, a bugger of a colour to clean. You had to wash it and chamois it all off. The only car wash there was a big mop.
The job required more than your stock-standard, crystal clean driver's licence, didn’t it?
There were security checks and every year we did a defensive driving course. They used to take us to the American embassy, where they’d show mock videos of motorcades and how the driver would be a target . . . all that sort of thing and what to do. Watching those you’d want to be like Scott Dixon, bloody spinning around. Then we’d go to the police college in Porirua where they’d make up ambushes to see how you’d react.
Were you ever nervous driving some of the most important people in the country – and overseas dignitaries around?
I wasn’t really, I felt pretty confident. You had to watch your driving and things like that.
Confession time – did you ever have a crash?
There were a few close calls. We always used to get protesters at embassies or Parliament. We had to go through them and they’d try to pull the flags off the car. At the top at Parliament it used to be quite bad sometimes.
Did you start off with lower-profile passengers to prove you were a careful driver?
As you went on they’d put you up the ladder a wee bit more and you’d drive someone more important. You usually started off with judges. Their associate would give you 50 cents [per trip] then it went up to a dollar.
Any other perks?
You’d go to a lot of embassies for their national day. There was always someone wanting to go along so you’d get roped into staying. They’d put on something for the chauffeurs in the garage. You used to have a couple of beers but you had to bloody watch it.
Did you ever have to blow the bag as the designated driver after a soiree?
No, you were probably in the safest car in Wellington, the police knew the CR [Crown] plates.
It was always good to know when you’re going to an embassy because you’ll get a feed tonight.
Some of the cuisine must have been, er, foreign to the palate . . .
We went to the Germans one day and they had raw pork mince. They marinated it, that was a bit different.
Any other exotic culinary delights to deviate from the good old Kiwi fish and chips?
We took some ministers to a Russian factory ship at Queens Wharf one night. I went into the gallery and this Russian woman brought out a steak on a tin plate. The chips and salad were done in olive oil. A bloke stood on the door and watched me all the time.
The Iron Curtain was drawn and the Berlin Wall was up back then, did the Russians in the capital fit the surly, suspicious stereotype?
When you were in the embassy [in Karori] they’d put you in the pool room and keep bringing bottles of beer out. There was always someone standing behind the curtain watching you. You’d see it in the movies and it actually did happen.
Conversation would have been kept to a minimum there, but did you ever build up a rapport with regular passengers?
Judges and [government] ministers would ask about how your family was, how’s things at home? The rugby. Some would just sit there. We’d say “Morning Sir” but we weren’t allowed to speak to them unless they spoke to us. Normally if they sat in the front they’d want a bit of a talk. I got to know [National MP and minister of education] Merv Wellington, we’d go to the rugby at Athletic Park. He wouldn’t get any grief when we’d sit in the Millard Stand but one night I dropped him home in Karori and someone had taken a s**t right outside his gate.
The times I drove him he was good as gold. He always liked a laugh. I picked him up at the airport once and you had to go round Oriental Bay, you couldn’t go through Victoria Tunnel in case it was blocked for an assassination attempt. There was a truck in front of us and we picked up the conversation on the RT frequency. The bloke told his boss, “I’ve got the Pig behind me”. Old Rob laughed. I thought that poor bastard. Rob’s probably memorised the number plate and he’ll be off the road tomorrow.
Muldoon was obviously recognisable, ditto his car CR1. Did you remember any issues, for example, around the Springbok Tour in 1981?
Some of the time they’d use a plain car. When that tour was on you didn’t know who was for it and who was against it. If you said the wrong thing you’d end up in a bloody great argument.
Some said sports and politics around then, and since. Rugby was a regular topic during road trips, how about National v. Labour. Was that ever a debate?
They never talked politics, at the end of the day they were the same as you and I. Sometimes I’d sit in the back of the hall instead of the car if they were campaigning. One night I took Ben Couch [former Minister of Police and Maori Affairs] to Martinborough. That was entertaining with the hecklers.
Geographically, how far did you venture from Wellington?
If Wellington Airport was closed you’d end up anywhere in the North Island. You could end up halfway to Auckland (the passenger switched cars at Waiouru), sometimes you’d take you right through to Auckland. Sometimes we’d do 16-hour days. You’d be overtired, but you’d just keep going.
Were you on duty when a noticeably weary Muldoon called a snap election in 1984?
We were down the basement in Parliament and when they came down they all went to Government House to get the Governor General to authorise it. It wasn’t really a surprise. People just wanted a wee bit of a change. David Lange took over, I didn’t drive him very much.
The last one I drove was [former US President] Jimmy Carter. The Lions Clubs brought him out in 1984. I drove his security from Wellington to Palmerston North, Taupo and Rotorua. We rode behind. The Yanks brought their own limo for Jimmy in a Starlifter.
How about another American who made an impression. The Playboy centrefold/Hollywood actress you ferried from Wellington to Lower Hutt.
I drove Bo Derek and her husband from the James Cook [Hotel] to the National Film Unit. Years ago they were going to make a movie about Lady Godiva and have her on a horse naked with a snake. They wanted to bring the snake in from Australia and everyone hit the roof. The movie never got made. After I’d dropped them off I took a bloke from the unit back to Wellington. He said, “Trev, she’s a beautiful girl. She doesn’t like smoking, doesn’t like drinking and likes going to bed early”. I told him, “I could change for that”. I saw her 3-4 years ago on the television and she still looks bloody good.
And those tasks by Royal Appointment?
I drove the Crown Prince of Japan [Fumihito, Prince Akishino], he was only about 12 when he was out here. He stayed with Jim Bolger because he had children the same age. I also had the Queen’s lady-in-waiting [Lady Susan Hussey] in my car on one royal visit. She never mentioned the Queen, she just wanted to know how big a family I had. What your interests are in life, that sort of thing.
Although you followed mum’s orders by joining the Post Office, you ended up back on the roads doing contracting work, didn’t you?
I came back down to Christchurch in 85-86. I went out selling firewood for a while when they put me off. Then I worked for what is now Fulton Hogan. I was there for 30 years, 24 of them over on Banks Peninsula doing those back roads. My son Mark decided to go out on his own. He’s going really well at the moment so I thought I’ll retire and go and give him a bit of knowledge before I lose me marbles.
So the toil continued after Labour weekend?
We do a lot of work for Downer up in the Lewis Pass, a lot of cement stabilising. We’re up there till Christmas.